Wings

I’ll be taking off again into the wild blue yonder this Friday, winging my way once more to Ecuador. I am very excited to go—although less than excited about the journey itself.  This will be my fifth trip to Ecuador.  I love each opportunity I have to visit Laurie and Fernando and my seven beautiful grandchildren, and I am so grateful to the Lord and to my husband Bob for making it possible.  If only I could skip the flying part…Copa-Airlines-Flying-To-Belize-City-Chaa-Creek

I know—I’m an ungrateful wretch! Thank the Lord for modern jets that make it possible to leave home in the morning and be in South America in time for supper!  A hundred years ago when a missionary left home, it could be many years, it could be never, that his family saw him again.  Maybe in another hundred years, should the Lord tarry, we’ll be able to climb into a molecular transporter of some sort (think Star Trek) and arrive at our destination in a matter of minutes! Beam me up, Scotty!

Until then—even a one day trip wears me out! It’s all the preparation and getting to the airport; going through check-in and security; getting to the correct gate and waiting around for hours (all alone usually); catching a connecting flight (hopefully); finally arriving—and hoping your baggage did, too!  I guess it’s a little like having a baby—there’s a lot of pain and suffering that goes into it (on a much smaller scale, of course!), but in the end, the reward is wonderful!

The actual flying part doesn’t bother me at all. By the time I finally sink into that seat—aah!  At last, I can just sit back and relax!  I am not a nervous flier, and although the novelty has somewhat worn off, I still find flying way up there above the clouds rather enjoyable.

I’ve always enjoyed looking out the window as I fly. The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen was while flying over Cuba.  Seeing the Rocky Mountains from above is a totally different perspective of one of my favorite parts of the country.  Looking down on the great American desert was a new experience for me, and I love having a sea gull’s view of the ocean as I fly from L.A. to Santa Barbara.  There’s just one thing—the best views come when you sit in front of the wings.  Over it, you get nothing; behind it, some of the view may still be blocked.

I was thinking about this the other day and wondering what kind of seats I will get on my upcoming flights. I am flying Copa Airlines this time, and I do not get my seat assignment until I check in.  Will I sit in front of the wing, over it, behind it?  Bummer—I like to choose for myself ahead of time!

And then the Lord brought something to my mind—the best seat of all is under His wing! 

wings6The Psalmist talks about being under the shelter, the shadow of the wings of the Lord. As I looked at several verses in the book of Psalms I saw three aspects to being sheltered under His wing.

First, we see that the shadow of His wing is a place of faith and trust.  Psalm 91:4a says, “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust…”   It is a refuge of protection. “…my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge…” (Psalm 57:1) Just as a mother hen gathers her chicks in the time of storm or danger from predators, God shelters and protects His children so that they need not fear when they put their trust in Him.

The shadow of His wing is also a place of joy and contentment. Psalm 63:7 says, “Because you are my wings7help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” When there is no fear or worry, we can experience the peace, joy, and hope that only our Heavenly Father can give.

Psalm 17:8 says, “Keep me as the apple of thy eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings…” In His sheltering wings is love. I think of a loving mother tenderly cradling her child; a father enveloping his child in a big, warm hug.   Our good, loving Heavenly Father cradles us with His loving kindness, His watchcare, and His tender mercies. “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.” (Psalm 25:6)

When I step on that plane Friday morning, regardless of where I am sitting, I want to feel safe. I want to be able to just relax.  And I know I will be thinking of the reward at the end of my journey—seeing my loved ones again!  In this journey of life, the best place to be is in the shadow of His wing.  It is a place of faith and trust, joy, contentment, peace and love!  What a way to fly!

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W.A.I.T.

fotos con esteban 2 063My daughter Laura, her husband Fernando, and their seven children are missionaries in Ecuador. They live in a modern city—Cuenca—in the Andes Mountains. Well, let me qualify that—there are parts of the city that are modern, and other parts that date back to (Spanish) colonial days and earlier. The most contemporary architecture you could ever hope to see often sits next to buildings that date back one hundred and fifty to two hundred years or more. Huge, expensive homes are often adjacent to poor Indian shacks. Many of the streets are still cobblestone. And much of the infrastructure (sewers and the like) is just old. It is common for the water to be turned off for hours at a time in different neighborhoods just so that the hydroelectric plant above them in the mountains can keep up with the demand. Building materials, even on the newer buildings, are often shoddy. As beautiful as Cuenca is (and I love it), it sometimes feels as though one iscuenca-ecuador-6 stepping back in time at least fifty years.

Laurie and Fernando have had more than their share of house problems. Most of the time they are plumbing issues—broken pipes inside concrete walls and floors, faulty pressure regulators, broken sewer lines, chronically backed up toilets and showers—or leaky roofs, water coming in under the doors, etc. All that moisture means that in nearly every house they have lived in, they have fought a losing battle with mold, to the detriment of their health. They are being driven from their home once again.

This will be their third move in three years. Trust me, trying to find a house for a family their size that they can afford, that is in decent shape and will meet their needs (a study for Fernando who is a pastor, room to homeschool the kids, etc.), that is in a safe area of town, that does not already have a mold problem—is not easy. It took them almost nine months the last time. They have been looking since September this time when the sewage lines broke somewhere under their house and mold once again starting to grow right through the floors–and not to mention the stench—made them realize they could not stay. The city could not find the problem, plumbers were no help, the builder had no idea what to do without ripping through the concrete floors to try to find the source and Laurie and Fernando felt they just could not live through it again with all their children exposed to that. They started packing even though they had no idea where or when they would be going. Laura told me, “We feel like Abraham and Sarah—the camels are loaded, the tent stakes have been pulled up—now show us where to go, Lord!”

Many people have been praying with them concerning their housing needs. Fernando and Laurie knew they just had to get their family out of there (Fernando, Matthew, Melissa and Katie have all been sick for many weeks and Sara and Gabi have been affected by the mold, too.) They were sitting among boxes stacked all over, but still they waited for some direction from the Lord. We pleaded with Him, but when it seemed to some He was silent and no answer came, His answer came through loud and clear—WAIT!

It is difficult sometimes to wait—especially when you see your children getting sick. It is tempting to run ahead, or force open a closed door. Pressure mounts from others who are trying to help, or who have their opinions. Weeks pass, and then months, and still the Lord seems to say “wait”—but for how long? Waiting means resting in the Lord, but when we are restless to get this show on the road, it is sometimes hard to just relax, let go and trust. But that is what the Naranjos (and we) have had to do—simply wait on the Lord.Naranjo house

And this week they found a house—the house the Lord has been preparing for them all along!

We are truly rejoicing over the answer to our prayers—far and above what we even dared hope for! It is a brand new house at a price they can afford with an abundance of space for them all (including Fernando’s study and homeschool area) and many pluses—a playroom for the little ones, plenty of storage, outdoor space, a nice, quiet neighborhood set higher above with gorgeous mountain views… When one of their cousins mansionheard about the new house, he said, “Oh, so they’re getting a mansion over a hilltop!” Hardly—but they do feel extremely blessed to have found this new earthly home in which to lay their heads.

What does it truly mean to wait on the Lord? I have used the letters of the word WAIT to give us a simple outline.

W – Will of God. Waiting on God means that we are willing to accept His will above our own. It is tempting sometimes to try to force open closed doors, or to do things that to us seem logical and right but may be what God knows is not the best thing for us. Submission to His will means being content with what He chooses for us rather than insisting on our own way and desires. We know we can trust His choices for us because of who He is—our Father who loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3); our Rock in whom is our security (Psalm 62:1, 2); the God of all wisdom (Proverbs 2:6). He is holy, just, good, merciful, gracious, omnipotent, omniscient—in short, everything we need in whom to put our trust. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

A – Anticipation. Waiting on God calls for eager, confident expectation, believing that He has something good planned for us! “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) God’s will is always worth waiting for! Waiting on Him is the definition of hope—a hope that has a firm foundation. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.” (Psalm 39:7) Just as we know the sun rises in the east each morning, we can wait on Him, resting in our confident hope in Him. Psalm 130:5, 6 says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth waitwait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.”

I – Instruction. Waiting on God requires us to seek guidance in His Word and prayer, and at times through godly counsel. While we pause, waiting on Him, we need to be still and listen to Him speak to us through the Scriptures. Often times the answer is right there. Sometimes He uses a message, or the advice or counsel of other believers to help direct us, but that counsel must always be in line with God’s Word. Lamentations 3:21-25 says that He is good to those who wait on Him and seek Him, and whose hope is in Him. “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the wait-on-the-lordsoul that seeketh him.”

T – Timing. Waiting on God means we are trusting Him to do things in His own time and way. In these days of instant gratification, high speed everything it is difficult for us to sit passively by and simply wait. Psalm 37:7 says, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him…” Patience is often in short supply in our culture. We want to hurry God along; have Him answer our prayers quickly, when sometimes His answer is actually neither yes nor no, but wait. By its very definition, the word wait implies the passage of time. God does not look at time in the same manner we do. A month to Him is nothing. He knows the beginning from the end. When we are seeking answers, direction, provision we need only rest in Him and wait for His timing.

Waiting on God brings blessing into our lives—rest and peace, strength, contentment, faith—and builds character—patience, self-control, discipline. Do not be weary in waiting on God! It is well worth the wait!

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Mirror, Mirror in My Hand

Mirror, Mirror in my hand

Who’s the fairest in the land?

 

Robbie!

 

dvds2If you’re a long time reader of Sundays with Cindy, you may know that our special child Robbie has some things that he really, really loves. Music is chief among those things that keep him entertained.  He has a small personal DVD player next to his chair and enjoys listening to his many children’s sing along DVDs.  I am always searching for new kids’ DVDs, not only for Robbie’s sake, but because I have to listen to them, too, hour after hour—after hour.

And of course, a boy can never have too many pillows stacked on his lap! If Robbie sees one of his beloved pillows across thepillows room he won’t rest until he has it in his hands once more—even if it means he has to somehow get out of his chair or bed and crawl for it himself.  It is not unusual to see Robbie surrounded by four, five, even six pillows!

Then there were the years you would never see Robbie without an apple in his hand. We never knew what it was about an apple that so appealed (no pun intended) to him—the color, weight, size, smell??—but even in his sleep, that apple was tightly grasped and woe to the one who tried to apple bagelsneak it away!

Eventually Robbie traded in his apple for a bagel. He never tried to take a bite of the bagel, but like his former love, the apple, it was always in his hand.  Blueberry was (and still is) his favorite—all those pretty purple polka dots and that yummy smell!  We would trade him a new bagel when the old one was as hard as a rock, but even with the new one in his hand, he could hardly bear to give up the petrified one.  We never have figured out what is so entertaining about an apple or a bagel!

Robbie has a new love these days, though! It is—himself!  Or rather, a reflection of himself.  The object in his hands now, hour after hour, day after day, is a mirror!  We bought him an unbreakable baby mirror a few months ago and it is his new best friend.  He can’t wait to snatch it up the moment he awakes for the day, and I can’t tell you how many times he has fallen asleep at night with the mirror lying across his face baby mirrorbecause he dozed off gazing at himself.  And he does much more than merely stare at his reflection.  No, he kisses himself, or blows raspberries, or makes funny faces in the mirror to entertain himself—and his daddy and me!

Watching Robbie with his mirror has Bob and me cracking up—and shaking our heads. It has gotten to the point now when I sometimes have to sneak the silly thing away and hide it.  Robbie has always had some autistic tendencies, but he is such a social, people-loving guy that we have never thought of him being autistic at all—until the mirror came along.  Now he will totally ignore us, totally wrapped up in his own reflection.  Sure, we think Robbie is a fascinating guy, but he’s carrying it a little too far!  And it hurts Mommy’s feelings, being ignored!

RobbieWe want Robbie to have a good self-image, and we are always telling him what a handsome guy he is, but now, if he could flex his muscles in the mirror, I know he would! You know what they say the difference is between men and women, don’t you?  A guy will look in the mirror, flex his muscles and think what a great-looking specimen he is, where a woman looks in the mirror and sees all her defects.  And that’s our Robbie—a fine-looking specimen!

I believe what “they” say. The mirror has never been my friend.  I don’t enjoy standing in front of a mirror.  I get my business done—doing my hair, applying my make-up—and then I’m outta there!  And full-length mirrors—forget about it!  Surely that thing hanging on the back of the door must be one of those fun house mirrors!  No thanks, I don’t really want to see my reflection with all its faults.

But what if a mirror could reveal something better, much more beautiful than the original me? What if when the world looked at me, they didn’t see me with all my imperfections, but they saw Jesus reflected instead?  Psalm 90:17 says, “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…Remember the old chorus “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me”?

 

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

  by Albert Orsborn

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When others—family, friends, strangers, even our enemies—look at our lives, do they see the unconditional, boundless love of Jesus exemplified? Do they see His forgiveness when we forgive?   Do they see us exhibiting His grace—unmerited favor—toward them?  Do they see His hope, joy and peace reflected in our behavior?

Mirrors reflect light. Jesus said that He is the light of the world (John 8:12).  As imitators of Him, He said mirrorChristof His believers, ”Ye are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14a, 16)  Our light ought to reflect His light in this dark world.  Is our testimony a reflection of Him—an encouragement to our fellow believers and a witness to unbelievers?  Galatians 1:15, 16 says, “But when it pleased God, who… called me by His grace,  To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.”  When others look at the mirror of my life, is Jesus revealed in me?

You might be the only “Jesus” some people see. Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”  Do others see Jesus living in you?

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Into the Unknown

New Year’s Eve is a time unlike any other in the year. Oh, I don’t mean because of all the hoopla of Times Square, or the sounds of party blowers and fireworks.  Goodness knows, in this house there was nary a peep of Auld Lang Syne, nor pop of the cork to celebrate at the stroke of midnight.  Bob and Robbie were asleep by 8:00 PM!  I, in my lonely solitude, did a little internet shopping—not for anything fun or exciting with which to comfort myself, but for support stockings of all things!  Well, after all—another year older…

No, New Year’s Eve is like standing on a threshold. Looking back we are reminded of the good and bad of the old year—the joys and victories, the tests and trials, births and deaths, successes and failures, progress made, disappointments suffered, national and international calamities…  It is a time, too, of introspection—have I grown over the last twelve months?  Am I a better person?  Where did I falter?  What should I have done better?New Year

On the other side of that threshold is the bright and shiny prospect of the New Year—looking forward to a an slate, a blank page on which will be written—what??? The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering, ‘it will be happier…’” Our hopes and dreams, however, are just that—a fragile mist of hopes and dreams.  We hope the future in the coming weeks and months will be bright.  We dream of accomplishing goals, enjoying certain events, finding the gold at the end of the rainbow.  We gaze optimistically over the threshold through that mist to the next twelve-month leg of our life’s journey, praying it will be a happy, smooth path—yet sometimes fearing it won’t be.

Many people are fearful this New Year.  It is no wonder why.  The economy is unstable.  We do not trust our nation’s leaders.  Terrorism fills the headlines and the world seems to teeter on the verge of war.  Natural disasters appear to be escalating.  Trusted people fail us; personal circumstances are often shaky; as we age, health deteriorates.  Despite our desire to hope and dream, we know that life is uncertain.  Everything can change is a heartbeat.  What lies beyond the threshold?

I saw a quote recently by an English woman named Minnie Louise Haskins that struck a chord with me. It was the first lines from a poem that she wrote in 1908 which she titled “God Knows”, but which is better known as “The Gate of the Year.”  I was curious, so I looked up the poem.  I think it is beautiful and would Print like to share it with you:

The Gate of the Year

“God Knows”

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still: What need our little life Our human life to know, If God hath comprehension? In all the dizzy strife Of things both high and low, God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will Is best. The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision, Are clear to God. Our fears Are premature; In Him, All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until God moves to lift the veil From our impatient eyes, When, as the sweeter features Of Life’s stern face we hail, Fair beyond all surmise God’s thought around His creatures Our mind shall fill.

 

Crossing the threshold, moving forward through the gate of the year may be frightening when we try to peer through the mists and darkness of the unknown. We cannot see the path, but God who looks down hand in hand3from above sees the whole thing—the beginning from the end—around every twist and turn, over every  hilltop, through every dark shadow and obstacle.  What better thing, then, to put my hand in His and let Him lead me?  Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” That is a promise to cling to!

As we embark upon the path that will take us through the year 2016, the best advice I can give for peace on the journey, come what may, comes directly from Scripture: Commit thy way unto the Lord (Psalm 37:5a) Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) Who knows where the path will lead us?  God does.  Trust Him; walk hand in hand with Him, and do not fear what tomorrow—nor all the tomorrows to follow—will bring.

I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.

I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

by Ira Stanphill

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Skinny Elbow

Ahhh—Christmas is over for another year! As much as we love Christmas, I know most women are probably breathing a sigh of relief.  We can finally sit down and relax after weeks of shopping, baking, decorating, wrapping and partying.  I was exhausted, and per my husband’s orders, have barely moved now for two days!

All that sitting has given me time to reflect on some of the fun times we had. Christmas Eve is the big event in our family, when my mother and all my siblings and their families gather together to celebrate.  My two girls and their families (17 in all) and one niece and her family (another 5) could not be there—but we still had 29 of us—a nice big crowd!  We had an amazing array of goodies—umpteen appetizers, cookies, candy, pizza…  Santa made a “surprise” visit for the little ones with a present for each of them from his sack.  (Robbie got a big cow bell—he was thrilled; the rest of the family not so much!)  Of course there were gifts for all under the tree.  And then there was the infamous annual photo shoot of each family, and my mom and her children and grandchildren.

The photo shoot. My least favorite part of the evening.  Oh, it’s fun to watch the children as we try to get them to smile—or at least stay in one place, keep their fingers out of their mouths or noses and look at the camera.  It is nice, too, to see how some of them are growing up into fine young adults.  I hate having my picture taken, though, so I would just as soon skip that activity.  This year my sister introduced something to the photo shoot that has had me chuckling ever since.

Her family was up first. Cheree stood there proudly with her two sons, daughter-in-law and three

Would you believe this is me with my skinny elbow on Christmas Eve? No? Oh, well—I didn’t think so. *Sigh*

Would you believe this is me with my skinny elbow on Christmas Eve? No? Oh, well—I didn’t think so. *Sigh*

randchildren, hand on her hip, elbow pointed toward the camera and smiled.  “This is my skinny elbow!” she proclaimed as we laughed at her pose.  “My friend told me to do the skinny elbow, and you’ll look skinnier in the pictures!”

“Oh, boy!” the rest of us ladies chortled. “We’re going to have to do the skinny elbow now, too!”  And most of us did, laughing as we posed.  Whether or not we actually looked skinnier remains to be seen since I haven’t seen the pictures yet, but I sure would like to think we did!  Even my 85 year old mother wanted to get in on the act, but she was sitting surrounded by her children and grandchildren with no room to do the skinny elbow.  “Not fair!” she laughed.

I sure would love to have skinny—anything! Waist, hips, thigh, bu—well, you get the idea.  Why, just this morning I was thrilled to inform my husband that I had a skinny foot! (My right foot has been swollen ever since I injured it on the first of November, and it got even worse this week when I was so busy getting ready for Christmas.  Bob made me sit with it propped up since Christmas night and it has helped tremendously.)

Most of us would like to be at least a little skinnier than we are—and there are a lot us who would love to be a lot skinnier!  I used to want to lose weight so that I would look better—now at my age I just want to be healthier.  Did you know the #1 New Year’s Resolution in this country is to lose weight?  No surprise, huh?  More people join gyms and/or weight loss organizations such as Weight Watchers, buy self-help books, and try all manner of tips and fads to get fit and healthy in the New Year New years resolutions written in notebook and fruits, dumbbells with centimeterthan any other time of the year.  Each year about one third of Americans vow to lose weight/get healthy/get physically fit in some way, and about 75% of those people have stuck to their resolution one week later.  Less than one half (46%) are still working on that goal six months later.

The noun resolution has its stem in the adjective resolute, meaning “firmly resolved or determined; set in purpose or opinion; characterized by firmness and determination; firm, steadfast, fixed, unwavering, undaunted.” Many people blithely make a list of New Year’s Resolutions, but without the “firm, steadfast, determined resolve” it takes to stick to them, that list is not worth the paper it’s written on.

People began making New Year’s resolutions back in the ancient days of the Babylonians. Three thousand years later we still strive to make plans and set goals to improve ourselves and be happier in the upcoming year.  And three thousand years later we still break them as easily as we make them.

We Christians, however, have help accessible to us if we would just avail ourselves of it. When God is involved in whatever we do, we can succeed.  First of all, we ought to ask, are these plans and goals God’s will for my life?  Proverbs 16:9 says, A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” What is the motivation—do I want to lose weight to be beautiful or to be healthier?  Is this desire God-honoring or self-honoring?  Do I want to glorify the temple of the Holy Ghost or glorify myself? “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:19, 20)

After the Why? we should ask the How? Whatever God calls us to do, He will provide the wherewithal to philippians-4-13do it.  (I Thessalonians 5:24) He has promised His strength“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)  We do not need to rely on our own strength or willpower when we are trusting completely on Him and yielded to accomplishing His will.

He will give us the strength and determination to accomplish what He has set before us.  Daniel was an example to us of a godly young man who had the determination to do God’s will. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”  (Daniel 1:8)  We need determination and a commitment to fulfill whatever God asks of us.  “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto psalm37men.” (Colossians 3:23)  When we do this, He promises victory. “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:5, 6)

The Bible says, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5)  Think of a resolution as a vow to yourself—and to God.  Better not to make the resolution at all, than to make it and break it.  Better yet—make it and reach that goal!

 

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The Lights of Christmas

From Sundays with Cindy, December 2009 –

Oh, how I love Christmas lights! To drive down the street and see the neighborhood transformed into something pretty and sparkly on a frosty winter night, and main streets and malls ablaze with color and light… To watch the lights on my own tree twinkle and shine in all their multi-colored splendor…  To bask in the warm glow of cozy firelight or candles…  I love Christmas decorations, but if they’re lit up, all the better!

My Christmas tree cannot have too many lights. Bob and I go through that discussion every year.  “YouChristmas lights5 don’t need more lights,” he says.  “Yes, I do!” I insist.    This year I got back from Ecuador to find that he had put the tree up for me and put on the lights.  It’s pre-lit – but not enough for me.  I add several more strings.  Last year it had almost 1000 lights.  Bless his heart.  He was doing something really special and sweet for me – but to my shock and dismay I discovered he had put three strings on that didn’t even work!  He forgot to test them first.  I took them off and went out to buy some more lights on December 8th, and to my further shock and dismay, discovered Target and WalMart were totally out of lights and weren’t getting any more this year!  I got the one box I could find and had to settle for that, but next year I’ll be out in October buying more lights!

I love light. I’m one of those people whose mood is affected by dark, gloomy days.  I wish my living room got more sunshine.  One of the things I loved most about living in Colorado was the 300 days a year of bright, sunshiny weather and its big, clear blue sky. I love sparkly things – the Electric Parade at Disney World; fireworks; stars as you drive down a dark highway at midnight; sunlight as it glints of the surface of a lake; gaudy sweaters…  What is it about light that we all like so much?  As I thought about the lights of Christmas, I realized that there are several things that lights do that relate to us – we who are to let our lights so shine in this world that they might glorify our Father who is in Heaven.

John 1:9 says, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” He also tells us in Matthew 5:14a, 16, “Ye are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Christmas shoppingThe first thing I realized light does is attract. You know how a porch light in summer attracts moths and other creepy, flying little critters.  That’s why merchants use neon signs and spotlights and begin putting up their Christmas lights and decorations in October – to attract shoppers and their money.  As lights in this dark world, our lives ought to attract others to ourselves, and ultimately to the Lord.  They should see something in us that they want in their own lives.  A Christian who is living her life for the Lord will stand out.  Her compassion and kindness will attract and bring opportunities to tell others about the love of the Lord.

Secondly, light illuminates.  Candles are a beautiful symbol of the Light of the World who came at Christmas to pierce the darkness of this world.  If you were to go into a deep, dark cave and light just onechristmascandle little candle, you would be amazed at how that one small flame would illuminate and brighten the blackness of that space.  Light reveals what the darkness hides.  Have you ever tried to put on your makeup in fluorescent light?  Yikes!  It reveals every flaw, every spot and wrinkle!  The glory of the one, true Light of Christmas revealed to sinful men His perfection and their own sin and shortcomings.  To some it brought conviction and repentance.  To others it brought hatred and the desire to extinguish that Light.  We are not perfect like He was, but the light of our lives as we strive to live holy, separated  lives unto Him will bring conviction to those around us.  Not everyone will love us.  Some will scorn us, but deep in their hearts they will be convicted of their own sinfulness.

The third thing that light does is provide warmth.   How wonderful to snuggle close with a loved Christmas fireplaceone in the flickering light of a crackling fire!  To draw close to the fireplace, or a bonfire and warm you hands and toes and backside at the fire – ummm!  The light of our lives should provide warmth also for those around us.  Our love is the fire that will provide comfort and encouragement and warm the hearts of those attracted to our lights.  Jesus called us lights, but He also said they will know us by our love.  Do others feel the warmth of your love and compassion?

Of course, the most obvious thing we notice about the lights of Christmas is how they beautify. I enjoy driving around and looking at the lights. What a difference they can make!  They can christmas-and-city-lights-rockefeller-center-2006-1-muriel-levison-goodwinturn an old, run-down neighborhood into a beautiful fairyland of twinkling, sparkling beauty.  I can never decide which I like best – the elegance of all white lights, or the gaiety of multi-colored lights.  They’re both beautiful to me.  Our everyday, ordinary living room is transformed each year when we bring out the decorations and tree with all its special ornaments and twinkling lights.  The lights are turned on from the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night.  There is nothing sadder-looking to me than an unlit tree.  And when the lights are reflected in windows and mirrors, it’s even more beautiful!  That’s how the light of our lives should be – reflecting His light, brightening and beautifying this world.  Do you remember the old chorus, “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me”?  I pray His beauty and light is reflected in my life.

As we think of the lights of Christmas, we cannot forget the Star — the star that appeared as a Christmas_Wise_Mensign to the wise men, announcing the birth of the King of kings… the star that led them mile after mile, month after month directly to the house where the young child lay. That light was a sign and a guide, and so ought our lives to be – lights that point the way to the one true light of Christmas, Jesus Christ.

This is the one time of year when the world looks in our windows and sees our lights. This is the one time of year when perhaps they are more receptive to hearing about spiritual things.  And yet we have the Light, the Truth, the best Gift of all – Jesus – all through the year.  Let’s not be guilty of dragging out the boxes of lights, dusting off the old heirlooms and traditions and putting them on display once a year.  Our lights ought to shine brightly all year long, reflecting the true light of Christmas that attracts and illuminates, warms and beautifies, and guides lost ones to an eternal and personal relationship with Him.

 

The Lights of Christmas

The night is bright with moon aglow,

Reflecting off new-fallen snow,

And up and down the street I see

The twinkling lights on homes and trees,

And in the windows candles burn.

It seems that everywhere I turn

The lights of Christmas brightly shine,

Reminding of that ancient sign –

A star.

A star whose brilliance pierced the night,

Whose glory was a wondrous sight.

A star which eastern wise men saw,

And filled their seeking hearts with awe.

A star which left a blazing trail

That led to a King so small and frail.

And yet the babe they found that night

He is the one true Christmas Light.

The Light.

In Him was life and light of men

To shine in a world made dark by sin.

His glory far out shone the star

And reached down to men who’d wandered far.

For like the star the Light had come

To show lost man the way back home.

The true Light of Christmas – Praise His name!

The Light of Christmas, Jesus, came!

CSGriffith

light

 

Living Courageously

I had planned to write another Christmas blog this week, but the Lord has brought something else our wayfearnotheadlines this week that I believe He wants me to share. In light of the events we are seeing in our own country and around the world, I have wanted to address the issue of terrorism and fear.  This week I read something that my cousin Kami Rice wrote, and I asked her if I might share it with you.  Kami is a freelance writer and lives in France.  Her testimony is a compelling one, and her message in the following article is powerful.  Kami lives courageously in a dangerous world—courageously because of her faith in our strong and mighty God.  Here is her story:

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Releasing Fear, Embracing God

By Kami Rice

I come by fear honestly. It’s embedded in my genes, not the best gift among the other better heritages that live down the lines of my family. I first climbed deeply into the pit of fear when I was about 13 years old. I kamirwas dragged down there initially by some thyroid hormones that were out of whack, but I wasn’t released from the prison just by correcting the hormone levels. Fear had gained a foothold and wasn’t quick to relinquish it.

By my early 20s, I’d mostly climbed out, but soon, in my mid-20s and partly triggered by stress, I was plunged deep again. I finally went to counseling and was nearing the end of the recovery road in 2001 when four planes were flown into buildings and fields around the United States, in places I had lived, no less, and places where I had friends — places that were known to me.

Our entire country was plunged into the depths of fear. So I was confronted by the choice of whether to join my compatriots. Because fear is a choice, you see. And I chose then not to jump back into the prison I had only recently escaped. I had begun to taste the freedom of a life in which fear doesn’t dominate. And such a life was real life, a million times more full than the one “lived” in fear’s prison.

In the mysterious way of the Lord’s work in our lives, he had been releasing me from fear, in part by drawing me closer to him, into deeper dependence on him. At 13 years old, it had been the fear that was the turning point in my adolescent relationship with the Lord: I had to seek someone who was greater than the things I feared, and in seeking him, my relationship shifted from being an acquaintance with someone grand whom I was trying to please to a real relationship with someone who loves me.

I believe Scripture gives words again and again to what I’ve experienced firsthand: As God has released me from fear’s control and put my life under his control instead, I’ve been released to live life more nearly as God has intended. I’ve been free to pursue the paths the Lord has laid out for me, paths that wind through unknown places and have ends I can’t see, paths that lack nearly all the security our culture has taught us to value. Fear would have loved to keep me from the rich vistas of these byways and from the gifts I’ve given and received along their way.

Most recently, these byways have been French ones, since my arrival in France, potently, on September 11, eiffel-tower2012, to study the language. But they have also wound around the world from Zimbabwe and Congo, to Haiti and Brazil, to India and Bosnia, and more. My very not-financially-secure work as a freelance writer has given me conversations with fascinating people the world over, ranging from American women living in housing projects to a former president of Uganda. It has also been the fodder of much of the Lord’s discipling of me.

If I had let fear lead the way and had chosen instead a “secure” life, I would have missed out on these experiences and conversations and relationships and the resulting growth. And that’s the thing with fear. Fear wants to make the decisions. So when we give in to it, when we pursue safety above all else, at least two things happen. First, we’ve displaced the role God wants to play in our lives and, thus, in our world. It should be the Lord making the decisions we follow. Not fear. And second, we’ve bought into a lie. No matter how hard we try, true safety isn’t actually possible. There are always things that fall very far outside our control.

Now I’ll be honest: this is not all to say that I no longer experience fear. I’m as nervous as the next person when the airplane hits some turbulence or I encounter some other name-your-scary-scenario. But with deep dependence on the Lord, I work hard not to let fear make my decisions for me, and I’ve never regretted that.

It’s important to acknowledge that idolizing safety and comfort are cultural values in America, and other places too. But these are not biblical values. The Bible is chock full of stories in which God pushes his people into very uncomfortable situations, pushes them out of their comfort zones. When his people accept his nudges and leading, God gets the glory, and no matter how hard the road is, we who follow it live and live better for our obedience, whether that road leads us to Africa or to invite our neighbor over for dinner.

It’s one of those great paradoxes in life that fearfully trying to avoid all threats actually imprisons us rather than freeing us. It’s in facing the things we’re afraid of, rather than shrinking back from them, that we find real freedom and flourishing and that fear’s power is dismantled.

We live in an era in which big, complex questions are being debated — for example, should we let refugees into our country? — and there’s no ten-step checklist for determining how to achieve the most good for the most people. The same relationship that we cultivate with the Lord to keep fear at bay should also guide us as we communally and individually make thick, hard decisions. I don’t think Scripture recommends taking risks simply for the sake of taking a risk, for the high of living to tell about it. But I do believe it guides us to listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s voice and to go where that voice leads, knowing that whatever risk we find there has less power than God does.

If the Christians among us really believe what we say we believe — that we are in relationship with a God who is bigger than all of the world’s scary things and that we know what our ultimate good future is — we have no reason to live in fear, because life on earth is not the end. Rather than seeking safety as our guiding goal, we must be seeking relationship with the God who is bigger than all of the possibilities that make us quiver in fright.

Sometimes this God asks us to trust him enough to take some risks for the greater good — and amazingly this is actually where we find the very thing we wrongly think pursuing safety will give us: a full, flourishing life that rests along the byways God has created us to follow.

Nearly three weeks ago, as news of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris began making their way around the world, concerned friends began posting on my Facebook wall and texting me. My French home is quite far from Paris — in Marseille, which is on France’s Mediterranean coast, seven to eight hours away by car — though I had visited the City of Light briefly two weeks prior.

As messages rolled in, I was struck by the repetition of two words in particular: safe and safety.

I, too, was glad I was safe. I was glad my Parisian friends were safe.

But I still find myself wondering how well we believers cling to the angel’s words to a group of shepherds one night long ago: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, NASB)

What might the world look like if we were to live like we believe what that messenger of God said?

kami rice

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The Scriptures say “fear not” 365 times. I am so glad Kami ended her piece this week with the verses from Luke 2, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” It is expressly because the Savior was born that we need have no fear.  He has brought salvation for all who trust in Him—salvation from sin and the wages of sin, which is an eternity in hell; salvation from fear and worry, grief and pain, anger, addiction, bitterness and care.

That is not to say we never experience these things, but when we are trusting God, not only for our eternal salvation—what happens after this life—but for our life in the here and now, we can live fearlessly, courageously, knowing that God is in control over all.  Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”  He is in control and He walks with us, upholding us with His strength and righteousness.

In these uncertain times, in this dangerous world, we can live courageously.  Walk in faith, your hand in His.  He has promised He will never leave you or forsake you.  You need not fear what men can do unto you. (Hebrews 13:5, 6)

Fear not.

fear not Isaiah